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Serena Williams battles through at French Open; Osaka withdraws

Paris, May 31 (EFE).- American great Serena Williams rallied to win a tight first set before pulling away down the stretch to defeat Romania’s Irina-Camelia Begu 7-6 (8-6), 6-2 here Monday in what was the first-ever night match at the French Open.

Earlier in the day, Japanese world No. 2 Naomi Osaka withdrew from Roland Garros amid controversy over her decision not to give post-match press conferences at the tournament due to mental health concerns.

The 39-year-old Williams appeared to be in total control of her first-round match on Court Philippe-Chatrier when she grabbed a 5-2 lead in the first set, but a combination of some loose errors by the 23-time Grand Slam champion and some impressive baseline play from the 74th-ranked Romanian caused that lead to evaporate.

Begu stormed back to break the eighth-ranked American’s serve on two straight occasions to grab a 6-5 advantage and earn herself a chance to serve out the opening set.

Although the light-serving Romanian failed to capitalize on that opportunity, she continued to challenge Williams in the tiebreaker and earned two set points when serving at 6-4.

But Serena showed all her championship mettle to rally once again and clinch the set with a phenomenal point in which she covered the court from side to side, lofted a perfectly placed defensive lob and then hit a swinging forehand volley winner off of Begu’s weak reply.

That missed chance weighed heavily on Begu, who lost her serve at the start of the second set and once again in the seventh game to succumb to the three-time French Open champion.

“I have to say it was pretty cool to be able to play the first night session ever here at Roland Garros,” Williams told reporters after her victory. “That was something I thoroughly enjoyed.”

“I’m happy that I was able to save those moments,” Serena said of the two set points she fought off. “Did not want to lose that first set. I wasn’t thinking at that moment. I was just thinking to get that ball out the air, because I’ve been hitting some good swing volleys in practice.”

Next up for Williams in the second round will be another Romanian opponent, Mihaela Buzarnescu, who defeated the Netherlands’ Arantxa Rus 7-5, 7-5 on Monday.

In other results Monday involving top WTA players, Polish defending champion Iga Swiatek defeated Slovenia’s Kaja Juvan 6-0, 7-5 and 2020 runner-up Sofia Kenin of the United States pulled out a 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 victory over 2017 Roland Garros champion Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia.

But 2016 champion Garbiñe Muguruza of Spain was affected by a back injury in a 6-1, 6-4 loss to Ukraine’s Marta Kostyuk.

In men’s singles action on Monday, Swiss great Roger Federer rolled to a 6-2, 6-4, 6-3 victory over Uzbekistan’s Denis Istomin and second-ranked Russian Daniil Medvedev defeated Kazakhstan’s Alexander Bublik 6-3, 6-3, 7-5.

But the exit of Osaka, winner of two of the last three Grand Slam tournaments, cast a cloud over Roland Garros on Monday.

After being fined $15,000 and threatened with a suspension for refusing to speak with the media following her first-round victory on Sunday, Osaka announced Monday on Twitter that she was withdrawing from the tournament.

“I think now the best thing for the tournament, the other players and my well-being is that I withdraw so that everyone can get back to focusing on the tennis going on in Paris,” she wrote in a statement posted to her account.

In her statement, Osaka said she has suffered “long bouts of depression since the US Open in 2018,” when she defeated Serena in the final to win her first Grand Slam title.

She also said she is introverted and “not a natural public speaker” and gets “huge waves of anxiety” speaking to the media. EFE

rd/mc

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